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Dealing with medical emergency in traffic jam

By Sarah Awor

Added 24th February 2018 11:25 AM

One should get out and explain to any Police officer the need to rush to hospital or to any other place for help

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One should get out and explain to any Police officer the need to rush to hospital or to any other place for help

PIC: A female passenger experiencing excruciating pain during a heavy traffic jam. (Credit: Sarah Awor)


Have you ever been in a heavy traffic jam and, suddenly, you realise you must visit the toilets or else…?

Now, imagine a situation where a passenger in a taxi suddenly screams for help as they writhe in pain. What do you do? Do you break out of line and take to the roadside or the pavement? Do you ignore the traffic lights and drive to the nearest clinic, or ask the passenger to get out and take a bodaboda to hospital supposing the passenger cannot even stand or has already passed out?

James Okoth witnessed such a scenario during Kampala’s rush hour in the morning. The taxi was from Mukono en route to Kampala when they got stuck in a traffic at Kyambogo. Some passengers alighted and jumped on bodabodas to continue on their journey.

“The driver had switched off the car engine. After spending almost an hour on the same spot, a woman suddenly screamed for help. She said her stomach was on fire. Some passengers asked the driver to drive on shoulders in order to beat the traffic jam and take the woman to the nearest clinic, which was about 2km away at Nakawa in Kampala. However, the driver refused, saying the traffic Police officers could arrest him and make him pay a hefty fine,” Okoth narrated.

He said fortunately, the traffic officer released the vehicles and the taxi was soon at a clinic in Nakawa, where the driver and the conductor helped the woman access treatment.

Drivers speak out

According to the spokesperson of Kampala Operational Taxi Stages Association, Moses Mawejje Birungi, a driver in such a situation can seek the intervention of the nearest traffic officer.

“Talk to the traffic officer and show them the patient you are trying to rush. They will most likely let you drive on the roadside to save a life. However, this depends on the situation at hand because trying to save a life should not endanger the lives of others,” Birungi said.
Joseph Ssempijja, a taxi driver plying the Jinja-Kampala route, had a slightly different experience.

“One morning, I was driving to Jinja when one of my passengers, a heavily pregnant woman, started having labour pains before Lugazi town. She was travelling with her 14-year-old daughter,” he said. 

Ssempijja said he had to increase speed to 80km/h, twice above the traffic limit of 40km/h in an urban area.

“The traffic officers who operate near the hospital stopped me, but when they saw me indicating a turn into Kawolo Hospital, they let me drive on. I had to drive the taxi with all the other passengers on board to the hospital, to save the woman’s life and that of her unborn baby,” Ssempijja said.

What to do

According to the director of traffic, Stephen Kasiima, because of the general indiscipline of Ugandan drivers, it is difficult for a traffic officer to know when there is an emergency in a particular car.

“If there are at least two people in the car, especially in traffic jam, one should get out and explain to any Police officer the need to rush to hospital or to any other place for help. We are all here to save life. Actually, if you drive out of line because of an emergency and a Police officer stops you, you have the liberty to sue the officer. If you report to us, we punish this officer as an organisation for causing loss of life,” he said.

Kasiima added that drivers may break some rules in case of emergencies such as sudden sickness, labour pains or chronic diseases that need immediate medical attention.

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